KEIR RADNEDGE in BELO HORIZONTE – Gp H: Belgium 2, Algeria 1
—- Belgium’s so-called ‘golden generations’ may have a lot to learn at international level but they lack nothing in terms of spirit.
After a grim first half in which the Red Devils looked largely clueless in the face of a compact Algerian defence, they rebuilt their match after the interval to recover from 1-0 down to lead 2-1 with 11 mnutes remaining.
That was effectively the end of the match because Algeria had planned their entire match around a policy of containment and, when challenged to come out and try to score, they lacked the resources. Certainly squad resources are not a problem for Belgium. The game was changed dramatically by their three second-half substitutes.
Centre-forward Divock Origi, still only 19, frightend the life out of the Algerians with his pace at centre forward in place of the Romelu Lukaka who had appeared so unnerved by the occasion that he could barely control the ball; right winger Dries Mertens ripped open the Algerian left flank and scored a thundrous winning goal in the 79th minute; and Marouane Fellaini headed the decisive equaliser i the 70th after a perfectly-judged left-wing cross from Kevin De Bruyne – whose own reward was the official man of the match award.
Algeria had taken the lead from a 23rd-minute penalty converted by French-born Soliane Feghouli after he had been pulled back blatantly by Jan Vertonghen. But their lack of ambition was revealed by Belgium coach Marc Wilmots who said: “We made six opportunities and they made only one.”
Wilmots claimed that he always knew how the match would unfold and had told his players at half-time to keep calm and the win would calm; for a man who knew so much Wilmots was remarkable animated as he raced from his bench in excited delight after his side’s two goals.
Vahid Halilhodzic, Algeria’s coach, complained that Mexican referee Marco Rodriguez had overlooked a foul on Feghouli before Belgium turned around to equalise.
“Without that first goal,” said Halilhodzic, “there would not have been the second one.”
However he conceded that his players were running out of energy, a weakness which had been accentuated by the profit Belgium gained from bringing on the three substitutes who turned the game around.